The indictment against Igor Danchenko in connection with the Steele dossier demonstrates that mainstream media outlets face a "steep journalistic challenge" to defend their initial reporting on the file, according to The Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple.
Danchenko — whose indictment on five counts of making false statements to the FBI was secured by special counsel John Durham — was the primary researcher of the Steele dossier, a compilation of rumors and unproven assertions that attempted to discredit the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump.
"The Danchenko indictment doubles as a critique of several media outlets that covered Steele's reports in 2016 and after its publication by BuzzFeed in January 2017 … CNN, MSNBC, Mother Jones, the McClatchy newspaper chain and various pundits showered credibility upon the dossier without corroboration — and found other topics to cover when a forceful debunking arrived in December 2019 via a report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz," Wemple wrote.
Wemple asserted the sourcing behind the file was "threadbare in the most charitable of depictions," as were initial media reports about its contents.
"News organizations may face a mismatch as they place their reporting alongside the indictment," Wemple stressed. "Where the indictment relies on emails, interviews, and other powerful investigative tools, The [Wall Street] Journal's initial scoop cited a single anonymous source. The sourcing for The [Washington] Post's reporting about [Sergei] Millian's alleged conversation [with Danchenko] is unclear, while ABC News attributes its primary assertion to 'a person familiar with the raw intelligence provided to the FBI.'"
Wemple added, "these news outlets now face a steep journalistic challenge — that of returning to their source(s) in an effort to back up the original claims that Millian was an unwitting source for the dossier. If that effort doesn't produce enough evidence to surmount the allegations in the indictment, there's only one option: Retract the stories."
He emphasized, permitting "one version of events to sit awkwardly alongside another — and leaving it to the reader to decide — won't cut it."
Wemple also slammed MSNBC host Rachel Maddow for saying Durham was was attempting to "discredit the whole Russia investigation by arresting various sources for that investigation, to discredit the Steele dossier because so many people have been led to think that was the reason for the investigation."
Wemple pointed out, "just as Durham can't use the dossier to deflect from the larger Trump-Russia tableau, however, people such as Maddow and others can't use the larger Trump-Russia tableau to deflect from their coverage of the dossier. A reckoning is years overdue."
Former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said over the weekend he is expecting "many indictments" from Durham's probe, asserting that everyone involved in creating the dossier is in "jeopardy," the New York Post reported.
Brian Freeman, a Newsmax writer based in Israel, has more than three decades writing and editing about culture and politics for newspapers, online and television.
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